Tim McGraw delivers well-crafted new album

Tim McGraw
TWO LANES OF FREEDOM

It’s in the cards that country star Tim McGraw will be singing the feel-good anthems on his new album for stadiums full of people all summer long.

Two Lanes of Freedom, McGraw’s first album for Big Machine Records, surely will add to the singer’s already impressive statistics. The north Louisiana native has sold 40 million albums, released 32 No. 1 songs and won three Grammy awards.

The album contains two road songs, the first being title track “Two Lanes of Freedom,” a love song for country roads less traveled and the person the singer’s sharing the journey with. A production and performance with landscape-worthy range and plenty of horsepower, “Freedom” is, like all of the album, fresh, inspired and, from top to bottom, expertly constructed. The other road song, “Highway Don’t Care,” features more sonic grandeur and a special guest, McGraw’s Big Machine labelmate, Taylor Swift.

The anthems continue with “Southern Girl,” an ode to Southern womanhood that could be McGraw’s answer to the Beach Boys classic “California Girls.” “Kisses sweeter than Tupelo honey,” he sings. “A little bit crazy, like New Orleans. Memphis blue and Daytona sunny. Ain’t nothin’ in the whole wide world like a Southern girl.”

McGraw reels off a golden list of song titles in a clever homage to country music, “Nashville Without You.” It’s appropriately the most conventionally country music of the album. And he’s the king of denial in “Friend of a Friend.” “Don’t you believe anything you hear,” he sings with barely checked emotion, “when someone tells you I still ask about you after all these years.”

Though “Book of John,” a song about the death of beloved parent, is well crafted, it sounds generic alongside the rest of the album. Nearly everything on Two Lanes of Freedom works, including songs that enter pop-rock (“Mexicoma,” “It’s Your World”) and hip-hop territory (“Truck Yeah”).

McGraw, in his 20th year as a recording artist, has made an album that’s more than worthy of his big-selling catalog.

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
TEXAS FLOOD

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut album, released June 13, 1983, proved that the dynamic 28-year-old singer-guitarist from Texas had what it takes to ignite a blues-rock revival.

A soulful vocalist, brilliant guitarist and clear continuation of the guitar exploits of Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, Guitar Slim, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, Vaughan and his fiery in-studio performances for the Texas Flood album don’t sound the least muffled or hindered by the recording studio.

Featuring 10 often explosive tracks, Texas Flood busts open with a Vaughan original, the Chuck Berry-based “Love Struck Baby.” His original songs, including the undeniably grooving “Pride and Joy,” stand their ground alongside renditions of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Tell Me” and Buddy Guy’s Slim Harpo-funky “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Two instrumentals that arrive mid album doubly testify to Vaughan guitar genius, especially “Rude Mood,” an original in which he unleashes a whole bag of six-string tricks.

A bonus disc included in Legacy Recordings’ 30th anniversary edition of Texas Flood offers a 1983 Philadelphia concert performed by Vaughan and his two-man band, Double Trouble. Disc two ends with the trio’s epic re-creation of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and “Third Stone from the Sun.” At his best, Vaughan was a stunning talent.

Destiny’s Child
LOVE SONGS

Just days before BeyoncĂ©’s Destiny’s Child reunion at the Super Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, a Valentine’s Day-timed collection of Destiny’s Child’s ballads and slow jams hit the market. The 14-track disc features 13 songs originally released from 1998 through 2004 and one new Destiny’s Child recording.

Emotion is a key word for the lyrics and performances, but there are also many luxurious girl-group vocal arrangements. Timbaland’s 2002 remix of Destiny’s Child signature song “Say My Name” doesn’t match the original but the album’s upbeat new production, “Nuclear,” is a keeper.

Billy Joel
SHE’S GOT A WAY: LOVE SONGS

Eighteen Billy Joel songs are assembled from his decades of recordings for this love song collection. The obvious choices include “She’s Got a Way” (represented by a voice-and-piano-in-performance recording) and, two songs from 1977’s The Stranger album, the romantic “Just the Way You Are” and declamatory “She’s Always a Woman.” But “An Innocent Man,” nuanced high-point of Joel’s catalog though it is, contains lyrics that may be too unresolved to qualify it as a love song. Joel scores again, though, with the Drifters-style splendor of “Until the Night” and his doo-wop inspired “This Night.”